Summer is beginning... and that means a whole lot of folks are getting ready for church camps & retreats. What follows is an edited version of something I wrote back in 2006 that I think can be very helpful.
Retreats & camps are great things... chances to get out of the "every day grind", to draw closer to God, to strengthen relationships with other folks in the church. And they're just plain fun.
So, let me suggest three simple rules for getting the most bang for your buck/time/energy/whatever when attending a camp or retreat:
Expect something good to happen.
When we're looking for good stuff, it's easier to find it. The same is true of a retreat... when you go with a lousy attitude, convinced that you're not going to like it, you've increased your chances of missing something wonderful: a moment with God, a conversation that becomes a starting point for a lifelong friendship, laughter that lightens your soul. All too easy to miss that stuff when you're focused on what a miserable time you're having.
Expect something bad to happen.
No camp ever comes off without a hitch. Satan does not want us to see our lives through refreshed spiritual eyes, so he will be hard at work trying to sabotage what God is doing. Burned food, messed-up schedules, friction with other people, whatever... he's doing everything he can pay attention to the negative.
The cool thing about our great God is that he can take what was intended for evil and turn it for good. Moments of tension & frustration can turn into moments of holy awe, as we see Jesus drawing us together.
So in the middle of whatever screw-up that happens, ask God, "What are you doing here? I want in on it."
A retreat is a jumping off point, not a destination.
A number of churches that I've been a part of over the years forgot this... and camp/retreats/revivals became the primary point of spiritual change for most people in the congregation. We waited until we "felt" spiritual and made big, splashy commitments to follow God.
Instead, we ought to view special events (like retreats) as a jump-off point, rather than the finish line. Essentially, they act as a trail head on a spiritual journey... they get us ready to walk with God in our day-to-day lives. They aren't an end in and of themselves.
So, whatever you learn on a retreat or camp, prepare to carry it with you back down the mountain and plant it smack dab in the middle of your everyday life.
Church is not a building. Church is not an event that takes place on Sundays… when Scripture talks about church, it means community. The little fellowships of the heart that are outposts of the kingdom. A shared life. They worship together, eat together, pray for one another, go on quests together. They hang out together, in each other's homes.
A true community is something you'll have to fight for. You'll have to fight to get one, and you'll have to fight to keep it afloat.... You want this thing to work. You need this thing to work. You can't ditch it and jump back on the cruise ship. This is the church. (John Eldredge, Waking the Dead)